Saturday, July 27, 2013

Brief Descriptions of Top Players in Nigeria's National Team...

Since Stephen Keshi became Nigeria's coach in 2011 he has used many players. However, there are some of those players that Keshi has repeatedly used or we feel that he will use regularly in the coming months. Below we have provided very brief description of each of those players that we believe are in the coach's main pool.

Augustine Ejide – He is perhaps the best of Nigeria’s three goalkeepers at defending crosses. He is no doubt an excellent goalkeeper. It is unfortunate that the coaches have settled for Enyeama ahead of him. It is clear, however, Nigeria will not lose a beat if he plays in substitute of Enyeama. Ejide is sure handed and has played 26 games at 79 minutes per.

Vincent Enyeama – Vince is Nigeria’s No.1 and an excellent shot stopper. Controls his goal area and very difficult to beat from distance. He is now the on-field captain of the national team and is more likely to become Nigeria’s first player to appear 100 times for the national team. His appearance count is now at 84 games with an average of 88 minutes per game. He has captained 18% of those games.

Chigozie Agbim – His build is stocky and muscular. His physique looks nothing like you will expect in a goal keeper. However, he is agile  and brave  but clearly No. 3 behind the first two goalkeepers. Agbim has captained all 5 of A games  of which he played 90 minutes.

Ambrose Efe – Efe is a defender with ability to bring the ball forward and play in the midfield. He has excellent technique with good defensive skills. He also scores his fair share of goals particularly with headers from set pieces. However, there is considerable doubt about his ability to go toe to toe defensively with speedy wide forwards. His positioning in the Confederations Cup led to Spain’s move for the opening goal. Stats: 28 appearances at an average of 81 minutes.

Godfrey Oboabona – Godfrey is a good defender, particularly in one and one situations. His long range passing out of the defense is under rated but might be the second best such passer besides Mikel Obi. His game has grown significantly under the coaches in the national team. He is good at set pieces particularly for his club and scored with one set piece in an away 1-1 draw for Nigeria against Namibia. However, sometimes he shows indecision when challenged in close quarters. Godfrey has played the full 90 minutes in all 25 appearances for Nigeria.

Azubike Egwueke – Azubike is a fast defender who uses his height to great advantage.  He is an all effort type and very decisive in dangerous situations. However, his tackling is not the best with only average anticipation. Additionally, he appears to lack top notch anticipation required in the middle of the defense. He averages 84 minutes in 14 games.

Elderson Echiejile – Elderson has grown exponentially with the national team after starting off as a shaky replacement for former international Taye Taiwo. He has since proven, over the long run, to be a surer defender than Taiwo.  He overlaps seamlessly with ability to recover in defense. Also has ability to score from his position. Sometimes he has problems against quick dribbling opposition. He has played in 34 games averaging 81 minutes.

Kenneth Omeruo – Omeruo is confident defender with great anticipation ability at the heart of the defense. His play and ability make him a clear choice over Nigeria’s former captain Joseph Yobo. However, his pace is questionable against very quick attackers but he is Nigeria’s most decisive defender. Unfortunately, some of the decisiveness leads to choosing to wildly clear the ball when there may be opportunity to start a counter. Also, sometimes he makes untimely forays up field that may expose his defense. In 14 games, he averages  74 minutes. 

Solomon Kwambe – He exploded with a  remarkable debut against Venezuela in Miami, USA. Since then, his game has slid a bit. He has very good attacking ability but decision making is questionable with poor in-game reading and display of irresponsibility in returning defensively. However, his future is bright if he improves his decision making.

Mikel Obi – Mikel is playing his best ball for Nigeria. Without question, he is Nigeria’s best player. He commands attention on the field and directs all attacking play from his position. Mikel reminds one of Diego Maradona – not necessarily in terms of technique on the ball but in dominating his team’s midfield play and orchestrating most of the team’s play. Perhaps, he is among the top ten players in the world with uncanny ability of keeping possession. Additionally, he is a supreme long ball passer and should win Africa’s Player of the Year for 2013. Thus far, he has scored four goals in 53 games with 82 minutes per game for his country.

Ogenyi Onazi – Ogenyi is Nigeria's energizer bunny on this team covering every blade of grass when on the field. He complements Mikel Obi and seats comfortably in front of Nigeria’s central defense. His weakness could be late tackling that often leads to cautions. Ogenyi appears to be a solid national team contributor for a long time into the future. Presently, he has appeared in 12 games and averaged 75 minutes.

John Ogu – Ogu passes the ball well but appears, always, a step slow.  Ogu joined the team with great promise but his pace is clearly below team average and he appears to struggle because of this. He is not likely to be a main stay as a starter on this team. However, he will be a reliable and efficient reserve. He has averaged 35 minutes in 7 games.

Sunday Mba – This is Nigeria's enigma.  Sometimes, his play is all world with crafty turn on the ball and unique technique to easily get around his marker. Additionally, he has a stunning shot from reasonable distance and wins free kicks in dangerous positions for Nigeria.  Other times, his game is completely off with poor first touch and a knack for losing the ball. His goal creating passing is average but when on, his ball possession is good. Sunday struck five goals in 17 appearances with 71 minutes per game for Nigeria.

Nosa Igiebor  -- Nosa is a very gifted player with a violent shot but his violence extends to mind boggling and excessive fouls against opponents. One such foul against a defenseless Venezuelan was horrific. Nosa's  ability to stick to team tactics is doubtful and led to his benching at the Nations Cup. However, his technique is unquestioned and he should get opportunities going forward. Presently he has 2 goals in 8 appearances and averaging 62 minutes per game for his country.

Fegor Ogude – Ogude is the team enforcer whose hard edge often sends a warning to opposing players. A major part of his game personality is giving maximum effort in each game in the mode of former international Peter Odemwingie. Ogude's defensive skill is tops among Nigeria’s midfielders and he has ability to link up play from his position. His downside is late tackles, sometimes reckless, that often lead to cautions. Fegor has averaged 65 minutes in 17 appearances.

Ahmed Musa – Musa is Nigeria’s fastest player who is frequently a handful for opposing defenders. Musa has ability to play both in the wings and centrally in forward positions. He is, bar none, Nigeria’s most dangerous weapon when playing in counter attacks after taking the lead in games. However, Musa is neither clinical in front of goal nor are his crosses top notch. The most concerning problem, however, is  his decision making when running with the ball. His current stats read five goals in 31 games and an average of 60 minutes per game.

Brown Ideye – Ideye is an all around forward with multiple abilities, including ball possession and holding up play. Ideye, however, has disappointed when in scoring position with several shocking misses.  However, his approach play in attack is very good. He has the tendency to become selfish on the ball and lose tactical discipline usually after Nigeria is ahead in a game. Ideye, a forward, has just 3 goals in 19 appearances with an average of 60 minutes per game.

Victor Moses – Moses is Nigeria’s most creative player besides Mikel Obi. He is a gifted ball player with good vision and ability to win free kicks in dangerous positions. He shares set piece duties with Mikel Obi. Moses was a significant contributor to the winning of the 2013 Cup of Nations. His downside is that he can disappear in a game due to close attention. The coaches have sought to help him by having him and other attackers switch positions during the course of several games. He currently has four goals in 13 games with 68 minutes average per game.

Emmanuel Emenike  -- Emenike is a deadly striker with 110% effort. He is very busy in attack probing, pressuring, and switching positions, and running behind the defense. Emenike is a consummate striker with ability to sniff out half chances. He has ability to invent violent shots. However, his style leads to frequent injuries but with Nigeria lacking an adequate substitute, this can be costly as Nigeria found out at the 2013 Confederations Cup. He has 5 goals in 14 games and averages 65 minutes per game.

Nnamdi Oduamadi – Oduamadi is a wing forward with quick moves to get past his marker. Unfortunately, his slight physical build is a problem as he is injured often.  His weakness includes very little contribution defensively and sometimes he overdoes the dribbling. Oduamadi is more suited as a reserve than as a starter. In just 8 games, Nnamdi has scored four goals and has played an average of 55 minutes.

**To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at books.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nigeria's Shame: Match-fixing and the League.....

Recently, news spread world wide about absurd scores in two league games in Nigeria. One ended 79-0 and the other 67-0. What is stunning is that in each game, the score was in single digits at halftime. In the second half, the rate of goal scoring was a goal in less than a minute. Now, think of this: goals may have been scored in less time than it took the team to retrieve the ball from the net and restart., and was there ever a passing miscue?

Clearly, match fixing in Nigeria has reached a new high. I use the words new high because match fixing in Nigeria has been ongoing for years with the football authorities vacating their  authority and acting the Ostritch. This time, the world is watching and the clock is ticking, tick tock tick tock. Will the authorities act?

If you need a reminder, here are just a few of infamous match fixing issues or cases to which the authorities pushed under the carpet.

1. March 31, 2006: Fanny Amun, NFA (NFF) Secretary General, tells the press: "We know match officials are offered money or anything to influence matches and they can accept it." Thus, the authorities instead of monitoring such malfeasance would rather urge the referees to fully participate in it.
2. August 12, 2006: Calabar Rovers lose 0-13 to Akwa United to help United gain promotion to the Premier League. United needed a 12-0 win to overtake Bussdor of Owerri and it seemed impossible but not in the Nigerian league as we have seen with the 79-0 score!
3. May, 2008: Kano Pillars coach Kadiri Ikhana complained "It was clear for all to see that we were robbed in Bayelsa when we lost 2-0 on Sunday. This is what Nigerian football is all about. We all cheat with referees and we will beat JUTH to win the league next week but how much longer do we continue with this madness?" NFA set up a panel to investigate Ikhana's claims of matchfixing but nothing was done after the investigation. Swept under the carpet!
4. September 1, 2011: Lobi Stars' Dominic Iorfa petitions NPL on Sunshine Stars and Dolphins bribing match officials before Lobi Stars hosted Sunshine Stars. NPL investigates this and sanctions several individuals but later vacates the excisions and instead claim that the NIgerian Police has taken over investigation. Nothing has been heard since!
5. Last Note: For years now, teams loath television coverage of their home games because it prevents bribed referees from throwing caution to the wind in ensuring that the home team wins. In many cases, home fans will seize television cameras or intimidate the broadcasting crew to prevent televising of games.

The reality is that match fixing in Nigeria is an epidemic.  Take a look at the following statistics.

Comparing Leagues on Results
___________________Total Games-----Games Sampled----Home Wins--Away Wins---Draws
NPL                                    380                       184*                    77%            7%             16%
Nigeria League 1979           132                       129                      42%          23%            35%
PSL                                     240                       233                      40%         25%            35%
GPL                                    240                        238                      49%        22%            19%
*Function of League completion just over halfway point

Comparing Leagues on Penalties Awarded
___________________1st Q----2nd Q-----3rd Q-----4th Q-----Home Award-------Away Award
NPL                                10%     17%         43%        30%             100%                     0%
Nigeria League 1979         8%     12%        24%         56%              44%                    56%

What we have done here is to compare results in the Nigerian Premier League to results in the Nigerian league in 1979 when there was still sanity in the league. We also compare results to results in two other African leagues -- the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in South Africa 2012/13 season and from Glo Premier League (GPL) in Ghana this season 2012/13. The data shows similar trajectory for the 1979 Nigerian league, PSL, and the GPL. In essence, the results fall under the expected statistical normality. The only abnormal result is the 2013 Nigerian Premier League where the result is clearly an outlier. For instance, while the other three leagues show similarities in percentage of away wins - 20 to 30%, the NPL is stunningly at only 7% away wins meaning that home teams are guaranteed wins that has to be explained beyond simply the ability of the teams. Home wins in the NPL are astonishingly at almost 80%, far higher than in the comparing leagues!

We then compare the NPL to the 1979 Nigerian league on the distribution of penalty kick awards. Note that we did not find a penalty awarded to an away team in the current NPL season. Yet, in 1979, such awards were almost evenly distributed between home and away teams. We then divided games into four quarters, two in each half and evaluated when penalty kicks were awarded and to whom (i.e away or home teams). Here we stumble into a surprise. I had expected most of the awards in the NPL to occur in the last quarter but our stats do not show this. Instead, most of the awards are in the third quarter. What may be happening here? Note that since the awards go only (at least in the data that we have) to the home team, the distribution in terms of quarters matter very little but a tendency to focus on the third quarter may be that referees do not want to wait till late to ensure that the home team is well on the way to winning by converting a penalty award.

**Please note that the data from which these statistics are based are not 100%. A few results may be missing but the data is well over 95% of expected data.

**To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at books.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Statistics on Nigerian Forwards and Comparing Goalkeepers.....

Nigeria’s failure to progress to the medal phase of the Confederations Cup in Brazil last month brought numerous calls for the return of forgotten national team players. As is always the case in Nigeria, there were calls for the return of Osaze Odemwingie, Obinna Nsofor, Obafemi Martins, Kalu Uche, among several other names that were put forward by critics. The surprise was no calls for the return of Augustine Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu! 

Jokes aside, there was a reason for criticism. After all, it was obvious that Nigeria struggled to score at the Confederations Cup with the likes of Brown Ideye, Ahmed Musa, Joseph Akpala, Anthony Ujah, and Mohammed Gambo missing several opportunities. The coach can claim that his key striker, Emmanuel Emenike, was out injured but he had the opportunity to recall those old names mentioned above or recall Obafemi Martins or Ikechukwu Uche whom he recently used in games or perhaps groom another capable replacement for Emenike.

In any case, could any of the proffered replacements have made a difference against the likes of Uruguay and Spain? Well, we have no crystal ball to provide any meaningful answer to that question. However, we can at least look at their statistics with the national team to make an informed guess. Below we put forward the goal scoring rate for each of the recommended replacements.

                        # Goals  -- Games -- Goals/Game
Osaze                 10 ---------58---------------0.17
Nsofor                12---------44----------------0.27
Martins              18---------41----------------0.44   
Ike Uche            18---------45----------------0.40                    
Kalu Uche           5----------34----------------0.15          
Akpala                1-----------9-----------------0.11               
Ideye                   3----------19----------------0.16                     
Musa                   5----------31----------------0.16                     
Emenike             5----------14----------------0.36                   

 Notice that most of the old strikers put up by critics have done very little for Nigeria in front of goal!Ah ha! The only two -- Martins and Ike Uche -- are not favored by Keshi who has actually tried both in games. However, few of those Keshi has relied on to complement Emenike have not done better either.

Comparing Enyeama to Ejide
Both Vincent Enyeama and Augustine Ejide came to the notice of Nigerians in 2002 when it became obvious that one of them would eventually replace the then Nigerian goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu.  Ofcourse, Ejide had debuted a year earlier against Namibia. Ofcourse, today, Shorunmu coaches both of them in the national team and has to make the decision on which one of them is Nigeria’s top goalkeeper. Obviously, Shorunmu has placed his confidence in Enyeama as has been the case after both Enyeama and Ejide began playing for the national team. It was only during the era of Coach Berti Vogts that Augustine Ejide was named the top goalkeeper. In reality, both goalkeepers are very good and it is difficult to claim that one is significantly better than the other. However, let us take a look at two statistics to learn about who has the better wins and losses and who has the better ratio on goals conceded. Just a note: While Enyeama's presence in goal has often mirrored a better result for Nigeria (see Efficiency scores), he has conceded more goals per game than Ejide and has kept less proportion of clean sheets in games played. The rest is up to you.

Ejide                 10----------12------------4--------------0.54        
Enyeama           45----------27-----------12-------------0.64    

                                            Clean sheets +
                       Number----% Games----Goals Conceded-----Conceded/Games          
Ejide                  14------------54%-----------15-----------------------0.58       
Enyeama            40------------48%-----------61----------------------0.72   

**To learn more about Nigerian soccer statistics checkout CHUKASTATS at books.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Preparation for CHAN: Testing a new strategy.....

Sure, the African Nations Championship (CHAN) does not have the profile of the Cup of African Nations (CAN) but the reality is that the former has remained elusive to Nigeria since the competition began in 2009. The Confederation for African Football (CAF) had introduced the CHAN and restricted it to only players playing for clubs in their respective home countries. It was a response to the increasing use of oversea-professional players in the CAN and the need to increase interest in the locally-based players.

Nigeria, in spite of its rich pool of oversea-based players in the national team and the significant migration of its players oversea was still expected to qualify for the CHAN on a regular basis. After all, Nigerian clubs have continued to do reasonably well in continental competitions without most of those oversea-based players. Unfortunately, Nigeria never has reached the finals of the CHAN and had lost, in one year, to the lowly regarded Niger Republic Menas. It was a source of concern.

For the 2014 CHAN, however, Nigeria has radically changed its approach to the competition and it appears that the change would see the country reach its first CHAN finals. There are three key changes to Nigeria's strategy and I list them as follows: 1) use of longterm camping of the team, 2) providing opportunities for locally-based players to play with the A squad of the national team, and 3) ensuring that one coach is responsible for both the A squad and the CHAN squad.

There is no effective substitute to long term planning, that much is clear. Nigeria's two previous failed attempts to reach the CHAN finals could be attributed to short term planning where players were hastily assembled just before the qualifiers. Result was failure even against the likes of Niger Republic. The difference this time around is a long term plan where the coaches have consistently camped the locally based players and developed them by building chemistry via several exhibition games and training with the A squad. The returns include building team chemistry and building player confidence.

The second key point is that opportunities have been provided to locally based players to play for the A squad. That has also provided results with some of those players moving into the A squad including Godfrey Oboabona, Sunday Mba, and Azubike Egwuekwe. Additionally, two players who began as locally based players -- Reuben Gabriel and Ejike Uzoenyi -- broke into the A squad before leaving to join foreign clubs. This is a far cry from years ago when no player was seen as good enough to train with the A squad, let alone make the squad. This in turn has been responsible for building the confidence of the locally based players and enhanced Nigeria's chancing of qualifying for the CHAN finals.

Finally, this is the first time that the National Team A coach has been given the responsibility of managing the CHAN squad. This has appeared successful as it is much easier to move the local players to opportunities with the A squad under a single national coach than to hope that an A squad coach would be willing to select some of his players from a local squad coached by another coach. More important, under a single coach the team tactics and teaching is more likely to be the same than under two different coaches that may have different ideas of how the team should play.

While it is true that we cannot confirm Nigeria's qualification to the CHAN until Nigeria plays away against Ivory Coast, we are reasonably confident that Nigeria should qualify. Qualification ultimately will confirm that the rethinking in the way to build a CHAN squad has been bold and successful.